Some Reflections on the Intersection of Law and Ethics in Cyber War

By Dunlap, Charles J. | Air & Space Power Journal, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

Some Reflections on the Intersection of Law and Ethics in Cyber War


Dunlap, Charles J., Air & Space Power Journal


Few security issues have captured the attention of the public as has the specter of cyber war. In a recent op-ed, President Obama warns that "the cyber threat to our nation is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face."1 This, in turn, has raised many questions about the legal parameters of cyber operations, including the rules applicable to actual cyber war.2

Parallel to the growing interest in the legal aspects of cyber war are an increasing number of questions focused on the ethical dimension. That is an important consideration for any military endeavor but one just emerging with respect to cyber operations.3 Mounting concern about the ethical aspects of cyber activities led the US Naval Academy to sponsor an entire conference on the subject in the spring of 2012. 4 Even more recently, the Atlantic published an article entitled "Is It Possible to Wage a Just Cyberwar?," which discussed several intriguing issues.5

This article reflects upon a few issues that illustrate how legal and ethical concerns intersect in the cyber realm. Such an intersection should not be especially surprising. As historian Geoffrey Best insists, "it must never be forgotten that the law of war, wherever it began at all, began mainly as a matter of religion and ethics. . . . It began in ethics and it has kept one foot in ethics ever since."6 Understanding that relationship is vital to appreciating the full scope of the responsibilities of a cyber warrior in the twenty-first century.

Law and Ethics

How do law and ethics relate? Certainly, adherence to the law is a baseline ethical responsibility, but it is only that- a baseline. In the March 2012 edition of Armed Forces Journal, Lt Gabriel Bradley, USN, points out that "the law of armed conflict sets minimum standards." He goes on to argue persuasively that inculcating individual and institutional moral and ethical values- a sense of honor, if you will- is essential to ensuring actual compliance with the law. And he is certainly right when he quotes Christopher Coker's observation that "laws can reaffirm the warrior ethos; they cannot replace it."7

Of course, even determining the baseline- that is, the law- is not always easy in twenty-first-century operations generally but especially with regard to cyber activities. Among the many reasons for this difficulty is the fact that most of the law of armed conflict was designed to address conflicts waged mainly with kinetic weaponry. Nevertheless, in this writer's view, existing law has ready applicability to cyber operations, a notion that perhaps brings us to the first issue regarding the intersection of law, ethics, and cyber operations.8 Specifically, we sometimes hear that cyberspace is such a new domain that no existing law could- or even should- apply to military operations in it.

Such an idea is simply untrue. Most of the law of armed conflict is not domain specific. Along this line, consider a recent project by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research to write a manual specifically on the international law applicable to air and missile warfare.9 The program did produce a useful volume, but it is a relatively thin one since the project discovered a comparatively modest amount of law that seemed wholly unique to the air and space domains. One can say much the same about the cyber domain, including ethical considerations.10

Furthermore, what sometimes masquerades as a legal problem in cyber operations is often more of a technical issue or a policy conundrum- not an authentic legal problem. The much ballyhooed issue of what constitutes the proverbial "act of war" in the cyber domain offers a good example. Although the phrase "act of war" is a political term, not a legal axiom, such phrases as "use of force" and "armed attack" do have legal meaning and could relate to a casus belli in terms of a forceful response.11

In fact, the interpretation of such expressions in the cyber realm is resolvable under the law if- and, really, only "if- technology can provide adequate data regarding, for example, the actual harm caused by the supposed "attack," as well as sufficient information about who actually did it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Some Reflections on the Intersection of Law and Ethics in Cyber War
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.